Neither of the last two Tests has provided the kind of intrigue or tension to really kick-start this summerâ€™s cricket. At least, such as it may be called summer when hail stops play. While the crowds may rue the decline of a once great Test nation, however, the England selectors have some cause to smile.
Kevin Pietersen may have sneaked the Man-of-the-Match award with his maiden international double hundred, but Headingley was Ryan Sidebottomâ€™s Test. After the Durham pair of Plunkett and Harmison had comprehensively failed to look threatening at Lordâ€™s, or even manage to find both line and length with any frequency, the prospect of a return for the equally unpredictable Anderson or Mahmood was not one of eager anticipation. Sidebottomâ€™s selection, whilst somewhat left-field and seen by some as a backwards step, certainly served purpose. His experience and discipline was priceless to an attack whose two frontline â€˜strike menâ€™ seemed as unsure as the opposition batsmen as to where each of their deliveries was going to pitch. Michael Vaughan possibly summed it up the Aesopian predicament most accurately:
â€œIf you’ve got someone bowling 90mph in the right area, it’s fantastic, but pace bowled on either side of the wicket is something that’s quite nice to face.â€
Sidebottom, like Prior, had not had the most successful start to the cricketing calendar. Handed his second Test cap, he took his best haul in all competitions this season in the first innings, with his second innings figures costing a mere two runs extra. Priorâ€™s two first-innings outings have both been far in excess of any of his scores for Sussex this year. Is Moores simply blessed with good fortune in his early selections, or does he have Fletcherâ€™s Midas touch for the international performer? It is surely too soon to tell; but for the moment it seems likely that Nottinghamshire will have to wait a little longer to regain their curly-haired left-arm seamer.
Not all of the selection decisions have paid off. While Graveney et al cannot take blame for Harmisonâ€™s curious lack of consistency, Plunkettâ€™s rather robotic action accounts for much of the troubles that went unhidden by his flattering figures at Headingley. Sidebottom has just highlighted the quality that can be found and developed in the county system that Duncan Fletcher had come to distrust. Unless Donald is able to make a swift and significant impact, a return to Durham for the young man may be the best way to improve his game.